With a blog called Eat Greens Every Day I’m pretty sure you have a good idea of where I stand on the topic of fast food.
But, just in case you didn’t know: I think fast food sucks. Sorry, just being honest. :-)
It really bothers me that such unhealthful foods are so prevalent and affordable. My goal, for myself and my family, is to stay away from it.
However, I do recognize that this can prove to be difficult, if not impossible. There are just times when this type of food is going to be the only choice available.
That is why I wanted to write on the topic today. We may not be able to get away from it, but that doesn’t mean we have to choose the unhealthiest items on the menu.
Healthy Foods on 5 Well-Known Fast Food Menus
Are there really healthy foods at these restaurants? Sort of.
Unfortunately, there are very few fast-food chains that offer healthy, organic and GMO-free meals. Yet, there are ways to navigate through a drive-through menu to find something to eat in a dire situation. Starting off, below are a few of the common ingredients to always avoid at fast-food restaurants.
Condiments: Most of the ketchup, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce and other condiments available at fast-food eateries are filled with GMO-laden high fructose corn syrup and preservatives.
Soda: If you didn’t already know, soda is one of the worst beverage options out there. They are filled with empty calories in addition to added color, flavorings and high fructose corn syrup. Instead of soda, the best beverage options include coffee, tea (unsweetened), and water. With that said, I can’t promise that the coffee and tea at fast-food eateries is pesticide free.
Anything Fried: French fries are one of the most popular callings of fast-food chains across North America. But just because it isn’t a Big Mac, doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you. Any fried menu option, whether it’s chicken tenders or potatoes, is likely GMO contaminated. Fast-food eateries use cheap, GMO-laden vegetable oils for frying.
According to Andy Bellatti, a dietician interviewed by LifeHacker.com, what you’re looking for in these establishments are the least unhealthy food choices available.
So, yes, there are healthier options to eat in moderation.
Here are my picks for healthier fast food options when you have to eat on the go.
McDonald’s has been trying to offer their patrons some healthier options. For instance, they now pack their Happy Meals with a side of fruit and offer oatmeal for breakfast. If you’re there for breakfast, they have an egg white McMuffin or fruit and nut parfait.
A good lunch or dinner option would be their I'm Greeking Out or Garden Fresh Side salads. Just be careful with the dressing because it can have almost as much fat as some of their fried foods, plus way more sugar and GMO's.
2. Burger King
It’s hard to go to Burger King and not get a burger – they’re the “king of burgers” after all.
However, I would recommend the Garden Side salad (without cheese or croutons) or the original plain oatmeal (no sugar added). Choose a side fruit if you are still hungry.
You might be tempted to order the vegetable burger, believing it’s a healthy option. Don’t do it. The veggie burger at Burger King is a Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Pattie, which is made with soy, wheat, egg, milk, corn oil and a slew of other nonorganic and GMO-laden ingredients.
3. Taco Bell
The spices in Mexican food make it easier to remove some of the not-so-great ingredients that hike up the sodium and fat content. I would ask for a bed of romaine lettuce, tomatoes and onion. If you are wanting to add black beans for protein, don’t fall into the trap. The blackbeans at Taco Bell might be vegetarian but aside from that, they are made with modified cornstarch, corn oil, canola oil and a number of other GMOs.
Unfortunately, the menu does not feature any salad choices or anything that is not GMO contaminated, so I would probably find somewhere else to go.
If you really need to get something at Taco Bell, I guess the shredded chicken burrito is an ok choice. Or, if you’re in the mood for something else, order whatever you like but ask for it without cheese, sour cream, or both. Meat at Taco Bell and other restaurants tends to be full of sodium, so another alternative is to order what you like but making it vegetarian.
Starbucks serves way more than coffee. Stick to herbal tea or black coffee, but do not use soy or coconut milk as it contains carrageenan. Also, some of their herbal teas contain "natural flavors".
They do offer organic Evolution Juices and steel-cut oatmeal with old-fashioned rolled oats with optional blueberry toppings. I would go with something like this. Just be careful of adding extra sugar with their flavored syrups.
There are some great low-fat options at Subway, however if you need a sandwich your safest bet is a Veggie Delight which is low in both calories and fat, as long as you don’t pile on the cheese and condiments. Stay away from their processed meat at all costs and order the 6 inch. Get an apple for your side and eat more if you need to when you get home.
A good rule of thumb: Try to stay away from fried foods and eat smaller portions. Choose water instead of soda, though unsweetened tea and coffee can be chosen as well, but you are rolling the dice there as well.
If you’re not sure whether you should choose a certain menu item or not, look it up on your smartphone or ask for nutritional information from the person taking your order. Or, check out this post from BuzzFeed.com that has links to the nutritional information to 26 different fast food restaurants.
However, don't let the nutritional value fool you. What I think is more important is how processed is the meal you are eating. Who cares if it has low calories or is low in fat.
These Fast Food Options Should Not Be Your Go-To Foods
Knowing that there are some healthier fast food options does not mean that we should make going to these restaurants a habit. Even the healthiest foods on the menu are nowhere near as healthy as fresh greens and other fruits, vegetables and whole foods.
But, because we live busy lives, it can be easy to start relying on these restaurants for a lot of our meals. That’s why my recommendation for you this week is to keep a record of how often you’re eating fast food.
If you find you’re going often, be proactive and find some delicious whole foods recipes that you can make ahead of time and freeze. Then, when you find yourself super busy, all you have to do is reheat.
Why Fast Food Freaks Me Out
Just in case you need an extra push toward healthy foods, here is a little reminder of why I think fast food sucks.
- The Sodium, Fat and Sugar Content: The amount of these ingredients in just one item on the menu is way more than the amount recommended for an entire day. Eating these meals regularly can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Even if you have to eat these kinds of meals every once in a while, remember that moderation is the key.
- The Chemicals: Most of the foods on the menu are highly processed, meaning they have chemicals added to them. Some of these chemicals have been known to cause tumors, brain damage, kidney damage and other issues. For more information on some of the common chemicals used in processed foods, check out my recent blog on ingredients and labels.
Note: I didn't go all chemical crazy in the recommendations above, since I didn't want to scare you, but that is really the #1 reason why I don't eat at fast food restaurants unless I absolutely have to.
Be Determined to Eat Your Greens Every Day!
Sticking to a healthy eating plan definitely takes some time and planning. Believe me, though, it is totally worth it. Make it your determination to plan ahead, to eat as healthy as you can and to get support whenever you need it. In doing so, you can look forward to energy that is through the roof and an immune system that is stronger than ever.
What kind of plan do you have for those extra-busy days? Are there certain healthy go-to meals that you prepare? I would love to hear your ideas, and I’m sure my other readers would like some new ideas, too. Share your tips in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook.